a geographical & historical meander
un meandro historico y geografico
By Daniel Charles and Michael Thomas
Part Six: Hills and Canyons and Mesas and All Surroundings
The Hills Etc..
TIJUANA is surrounded by hills, and then some more hills and some flat places, and then more hills, and some steep ones, too, even mountains, and then... on the other edge of town, the sea. The great ocean that stretches forever all the way to China. But, before that, this land is all full of hills.
We use the word rather loosely, as a name for three larger parts of town:
the edges of Otay and Cerro Colorado (north hills),
and then the hills south of the river, a vast swath of slopes and canyons stretching twenty miles around the city from La Presa and La Mesa into Hipodromo, Chapultepec and Juarez -- those are the south hills -- and then merging west through the middle class houses of Independencia, Altamira and Soler, by which time you
must say that now we have entered the west hills, getting through San Antonio and into the ocean hillsides.
These are the three, west, south, north, and east. Ocean hills, valley hills, and mountain hills. Wait a minute, three is not four. Ooops, well...
all this tangled mass of streets and neighborhoods around these hills and more hills, yes, it all hangs interspersed and backed up by working colonias who cling to their hillsides on retaining walls built from cast-off tires crowding toward the richer beaches. There is a mythology of world-view here. The image of class. Every class is represented in the hills, from masses of struggling poor and middle class to the rich and very rich.
There is, especially in poor and middle-class hills, a personal quality to hand-built homes which one rarely sees on the northern side of the border. People through the years have managed to get ahold of a little piece of land, and they start building a little house, sometimes from materials like garage doors and palletes and even cardboard, with earth floors and hillside foundations terraced by those tire retaining walls. Or more substantial materials like sheets of plywood or cement bricks, laced together with steel rods (rebar) which stick out of the top of the walls and flat rooves where families plan to add a second story later.
These are the many different hills. Life is hard out here. The dust blows harsh in the wind, and there is always the steep slopes to climb up and down in the world of valleys. Growling old diesel busses, blue and white and brown and red in this city, pull up and down the roads and streets, those ways up and down that people call rampa, rampas, ramps. "Grades" we might call those kinds of roads in English.
Then there are more, younger neighborhoods, no engineer ramp to stop a canyon road. You think you saw anything, no, you only know one or two blocks, three or four houses, and nothing more.
To tell all the stories in one city, you have to be a lot more than you are alone. There are just too many hills there, Mikey.
The northeast section of the megalopolis is dominated by a huge, flat stretch of land: Otay Mesa. Originally a deserted flat where the airport was built outside of town, Otay Mesa is now crowded with factories and warehouses, houses, shops, streets, several important schools (including the Autonomous University of Baja California and the Technical Institute of Tijuana) and, of course, the airport. It is extremely important for the industrial and business sector of Tijuana, and features a second international port of entry gate between the United States and Mexico where most of the truck traffic crosses over. The waiting time for pedestrians to enter the U.S. is much less here than at San Ysidro -- but there is no trolley on the U.S. side and bus service is infrequent -- at times non-existent.
The extreme eastern end of Otay Mesa is also the starting point for the scenic tollroad into the mountains toward Tecate -- a beautiful drive when the weather is good (most of the time). As you drive up the dramatic canyons you can see hundreds of little trails climbing the mountains to the north -- immigrant trails into the jagged wilderness, now that the easier geography back in the west where migrants used to cross is more heavily patrolled by la migra. Don't hike there.
Cerro Colorado is the "colored" (or "reddish") hill that looms above the river valley in the east of the city (clearly visible and labeled on our spaceSPOT photomap. The older generations of fundadores in Tijuana still remember when this large double-breasted hill beyond the edge of town. It is said that old adobe ranch buildings once huddled nearby its feet.
These years of the new millennium the megalopolis of Tijuana has sprawled beyond the big hill and around it, into El Florido on the backside, reaching toward Tecate. But the Cerro Colorado still looms over the river valley, and is especially noticeable from the sectors of La Mesa. Michael is trying to convince Daniel to climb up it one day, but probably they will wait until next winter when it isn't so hot outdoors.
Behind the looming double peaked hill of Cerro Colorado stretches a sprawling zone of valleys that is often collectively refered to as "El Florido" BUT technically only the area down in the valley near the free road to Tecate is named El Florido. On the left (north) stretches (rising from the valley) the colonia of Mariano Matamoros -- but again there are multiple Matamoros (Tijuana is Really HUGE).
El Florido proper has industrial and residential zones full of factories and houses. There are zones of middle class apartments and hillsides and handmade houses of the poor. Habitat For Humanity has constructed homes here. "El Florido" as a name is becomming the ultimate cliche for the sprawling edges of the megalopolis. There are other zones even farther out -- such as Maclovio Rojas where INSITE 2000 artist Mônica Nador worked her project with residents who painted their houses using materials she supplied and helped them with -- some of those houses are actually built out of cast-off used garage doors shipped down from the U.S. California. Yet, even there (in Maclovio Rojas) the name "El Florido" is used to describe their location in poignant geographic sense, when it was said during INSITE that the house-painting project was "somewhere beyond El Florido."
El Florido itself is in the midst of growth and transformation. Fifty years ago it was ranchland. Twenty years ago on the edge of the city. Now it is booming and all the hillsides are filling up with houses and shops and factories and boulevards.
The climate is hot and dusty in summer, chilly and dusty or muddy in winter.
Our prophet NosTRENdamus reminds us that in the future there will be a light rail stop near the factories and "El Florido" shall be known as a trolley/bus/taxi transportation hub. But that is twenty years away.
Playas de Tijuana Playas = "Beaches" etcetera.
When Michael and Daniel were kids, the real estate princes of Tijuana decided the obvious step was to develop the as-yet untouched beaches. They built the "Bullring-By-The-Sea" (whose real name is Plaza de Toros Monumental) and also its lighthouse, both up near the border fence, which, by chance, is right by the last edge of the terrace of land, south from the swamps and lagoons of the mouth of the Tijuana River (a huge nature reserve and military helicopter zone on the U.S. side of the line -- Border Field State Park). Playas de Tijuana is a large, mostly flat terrace of land between hills and the sea. It is roughly three miles long (N-S) and one mile wide (E-W). The beach is excellent for walking, although there are a couple spots difficult to pass at high tide. At the north end, the new (1997?) border fence stabs out into the sea, cutting off easy access to the beaches of Border Field. At the south end of Playas, the beach terminates under the cliffs where the line of hills plunges into the ocean on top of what appears to be a very tough dike of volcanic rock. There are also rip tides, as is usual along these coasts. Once we witnessed the aftermath of a wreck. Un choque automovilistico. A young Chicana from California drove her car off the bluff at the beach of Tijuana. It was only ten feet high, but she flipped and rolled and landed upside-down. A gathering of police, lifeguards, tow truck, ambulance, saw she was okay, and proceeded to greet one another. "Ach!" she screamed, "Mexico!" The crowd sighed, and tried to comfort her. "Ah," they whispered, "authorities." Eventually her dead beast was dragged up the slope, lifted onto a trailer, and carried away to la Gloria. She, however, would face a heavy fine for that infractious moment when she lost control.
There are perhaps a dozen neighborhoods in Playas, ranging from middle class to upper middle class to downright wealthy. Except perhaps for the constant humidity and salt air (some people don't like the damp, which also encourages mold, or the salt, which can corrode metal and other materials), it is one of the most pleasant, even beautiful, parts of the megalopolis of Tijuana.
La Gloria is a curious place which you will see on the way to Rosarito, that is, if you take the Libre Free Road.
The most amazing feature of La Gloria is its range of hillsides and hilltops completely covered with old automobiles, trucks and busses. We kid you not. It is like a vast harvest of vehicles which seem ready to all roll down the hills at once toward the highways from which they have been banished. That is, of course, why the wrecked car from the beaches was dragged away to "la gloria" – and you thought we meant something like an apotheosis. Well, we did. And this place is it.
Rosarito is its own city, now, a Municipio government separate from Tijuana. It sits on the coast roughly twenty miles southwest of downtown Tijuana. The open land between Tijuana and Rosarito is quickly filling up with stuff but there are one or two hills left in the first years of the millennium.
In Rosarito you can visit the old Rosarito Beach Hotel, an excellent example of "golden age" architecture from the 20s and 30s. The little museum outside its front gate is a gem of native objects. Rosarito, with its stream of good water and access to seafood, supported a large population of Indians who shouted get-out-of-here at the Spanish colonizers in 1769 as they were hurrying to get to San Diego. The city nowadays is much more hospitable, with a large selection of hotels, nightclubs, restaurants, cafes and shopping opportunities of every variety. South of the city on the old, free highway is a long strip of stores selling tile, ceramic, furniture, all kinds of rustic and contemporary Mexican stuff for your house and garden.
Back in town, tou can walk or horseback ride on the beach. Rosarito boasts a great number of excellent hotels and motels, the beach is broad and beautiful, and the nightclub scene is HOT. There are many gringos living here, too.
If you're driving there from Tijuana you must take either the
· libre free road or · the scenic toll road.
The libre leaves Tijuana from the boulevard just before the "downtown" bullring. Follow the "Libre" signs if you can figure them out! From old downtown go up Madero or Revolución until they bend left onto Bulevar Agua Caliente in front of old Tijuana Tower. The free road is four or blocks so before the bullring.
If you decide to take the scenic road you must take the NEW little ramp to the right off the river (or left coming downstream on the other shore) instead of turning the other way around and around the spaghetti snarl highways by the river, no, take the avenida Internacional along the border and up over the hill, and don't run over any pedestrians who suddenly jump out in front of you from nowhere at a 100 miles an hour with the metal fence and sewage plant rushing by. Unless you want to go into and visit old downtown, okay then as usual you loop around onto Third toward Madero. When you leave pass by the park going out (west) on Third Tercera Carrillo Puerto until after you must turn right on I or J and then back left again in one block up the hill no longer one-way Second Street, calle Segunda (Benito Juárez), which you follow winding up over the hills until it becomes a freeway to the beaches.
At Playas de Tijuana you stay on the superhighway bending to the left and pay your toll. After a scenic ride above the sea you will pass the power plant and come to Rosarito city.
If you don't want to drive? Well, Route taxis for Rosarito leave from Madero around 4th and 5th. The ride costs a little over a dollar into the center of Rosarito -- end of the line is near the old Rosarito Beach Hotel. If you want to go further south (like to Puerto Nuevo, Cantamar, or La Mision) you need to take another route taxi, the Rosarito-Mision ruta.
Busses from Tijuana to Rosarito leave from the old downtown station (at Madero and 1st) and also the bus station at the border linea glorieta (near the sea of taxis and island of tacos). Or you can go much faster and comfortably in a taxi especial for twenty some dollars and get delivered right to your hotel or friends' house.
Just a few miles south of Rosarito, beyond the Fox-Popotla movie studios (Popotla is an old fishermen's village with seafood markets outside the studio's south wall), you will find the "Lobster Village" of Puerto Nuevo with all its panoply of lobster restaurants. Michael has not been there (he has been to Popotla, and Fox will film his Cortés y Moctezuma there, building the Aztec capital on the lake where Titanic sank). That is all for now.
Route taxis along the free road from Rosarito to "El Misión" will drop you at Puerto Nuevo.
This pearl of the Mexican frontier spreads its wings before the sun and sometime fog upon the shores of the Bahia de Todos Santos, at 116'40 W 31'50 N.
"Ensenada" is a word that merely means "little bay," but "little" hardly applies to its size -- the beautiful half-moon curve stretchhes 20 kilometers from north to south, with the center of town seated on its northwest shoulder. Perhaps the "little" means that it's not much of a sheltered bay, being largely open to the Pacific Ocean in its western stretch toward China. Nowadays, however, rock breakwaters have been constructed before downtown, creating a small all-weather harbor in the corner of the huge, open bay.
Ensenada has had a colorful, if short, history -- at least, what history we know about.
For thousands of years people lived here about whom we know only a little. As a location with wild plants, game animals, half-dry streams and seashore resources, it was settled long ago by Indians -- who in recent centuries were members of the Kumeyaay (or Kumiai) nation, the Ipai (or Paipai) tribes that reached from San Diego County to here, cousins of the Yuman people on the Colorado River beyond the mountains. Anthropologists say that linguistic evidence indicates these peoples may have migrated from Arizona after the droughts of the 12th and 13th century which decimated (1/10th?) the "pueblo" cultures, and that furthermore, when they reached this coast, they may have displaced other tribes south into the peninsula before them. Their descendants still live in the hills and valleys on both sides of the international border. Some of their art may be found for sale at one or two galleries in the more recent city of Ensenada.
Spanish exploring expeditions captained by Cabrillo and Vizcaino stopped here in the 16th and 17th centuries, and "Ensenada de Todos Santos" appears on the oldest European maps -- even those showing California to be an island. This bay was also popular with pirates and whaling ships. Occasionally the Manila Galleon stopped to take on water -- always with one or two eyes over their shoulder watching out for those pirates.
Junipero Serra passed this way on land with the 1769 Franciscan expedition to colonize upper California for Spain. Shortly thereafter, the Dominicans, charged with founding missions in northern Baja California, decided not to locate one here, choosing sites to the north and south where they believed the surface streams were more dependable.
The Ruiz family settled in these wide valleys by the sea around 1805, developing their Rancho Ensenada along the usual livestock lines. The Gastellum family took over around 1825. Gastellum and Ruiz are now the names of two important downtown streets. (One of the Gastellum descendants, Juan, is a contemporary Tijuana sculptor noted for his Quijotes.)
In 1869, gold was discovered at Real de Castillo, some 30 kilometers inland. As the nearest port and source of meat, Ensenada boomed overnight with the influx of hungry miners. The old town was born with a heady mix of Mexicans and foreigners -- mostly yankees. Hammers and nails pounded day and night. Steampships regularly sailed from San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. There was even talk of a railroad. Ensenada became the capital of the territory.
The beginnings of the fishing industry can also be traced to this period, including Chinese boats expelled from the United States (some things don't change much, eh?). Later discoveries of gold at El Alamo promised to renew the frenzy, but the great California land boom collapsed in the U.S. in 1886, and then the mines here ran dry and closed down. However, the fabled Hussong's Cantina on Ruiz Avenue still opened in 1892, in the twilight of Ensenada's first boom.
Following the Revolution (and the pseudo-Magonista mercenary troubles), the territorial capital was changed to the new city of Mexicali in the desert beyond the mountains. Ensenada slumbered until the United States embraced prohibition in 1919, and then the new industry of drinking tourism stretched down from Tijuana. The beautiful casino, built in 1930, still stands as a cultural center -- Riviera del Pacifico. You can find it by the waterfront south of the usually dry river. Gambling was outlawed in 1938, but Ensenada has by then made its mark as a touristic alternative to Tijuana.
Along with tourism, the commercial fishing fleet, the port, and other industry continued to develop and the city grew steadily through the later half of the 20th century. Today Ensenada has a population of several hundred thousand residents -- considerably smaller and calmer than Tijuana with its 2 million -- yet has a rocking reputation as a party town for Mexicans and for U.S. visitors. Foreigners need no special visa to stay up to 72 hours in this "border city." To travel further south (beyond La Bufadora) requires a tourist visa -- get it at the border when you cross if you think you'll want to taste more of Baja California.
A hundred kilometers south of Tijuana, Ensenada can be approached via the spectacular scenic tollway that clings to the rugged cliffs of the coast. Busses for the 1-1/2 hour trip depart from a station convieniently near the border gate at Tijuana, just beyond the island of tacos and sea of taxis.
Downtown Ensenada at times appears to be one huge party zone. Hotels and restaurants abound and there are shops of every caliber. Mardi gras carneval in February is famous. The old seafood market will either amaze or disgust you, depending on your attitude toward fish heads and guts. The new bayfront walk -- el malecon -- is a magnificent public work, and excellent place to take a leisurely stroll ("paseo") while you gaze across the busy inner harbor. Whalewatching and sportsfishing boats depart from here, visiting yachts both scruffy and bristol tie up at the marinas, cargo and fishing fleets rumble in the background, and cruise ships occasionally moor at their own, special wharf.
Our favorite restaurant, Mariscos Ensenada, is located on Riveroll, a little over a block from the center entrance to the plaza of three giant heads. For your convenience, their huge menu is printed in English and Spanish. Moderate but not outrageous, they haven't paid us anything yet, but maybe when they read these words we'll get a free meal off them, eh? Tell them the Tijuana Gringo sent you... hee hee. We're hungry.
One of the more famous sites nearby Ensenada is La Bufadora, a natural blow hole where incoming waves send big spouts of water up through a crack in the coastal cliffs. Included in the "border zone," it is one of the last places you can visit headed south without a tourist visa. It's twenty something kilometers south of town. Take the main highway and turn right at Maneadoro or the sign saying "La Bufadora." Drive out the paved road onto scenic Punta Banda. Paid parking. Restaurants. Do not climb on the dangerous rocks. Stay on the walkways or die, washed from the cliffs with your body smashed and mangled by the waves against jagged stone with teeth that rip flesh....
Eh. Ensenada is indeed one of the brightest pearls on the necklace of Baja California. Enjoy your visit and pardon my writing madness!
Ah yes, gentlemen, and ladies, that is how it is when you live in a big city on the coast of the great south sea. But what if you are up in the mountains in a small town, with only a plaza and a valley and some ranches to make your keep, and wild Indians all around? And then comes the railroad, and then comes the beer. Somewhere, in the mountains between Tijuana and Mexicali, there is a small town. It is the key to unlock these mountains, the gate of know-where knot. The municipio itself is a California Mexico reality, but the horses are always ready to ride, sir. Outside, many wonderful places to camp and picknick and stay. In some of the best climate on this planet, the rancho is king. Chill, cool nights in autumn, and cold, frozen moments in winter, with hot afternoon summer, a touch of water and fresh air, and heaven on earth is by definition in Mediterranean climate mild until the end of days amen.
The highways east and west pass by the town of Tecate, and bow their heads. In the city there are tacos as good as any anywhere. You are welcome to the red-brown neck frontier, Mexican style. Ranchero rules. What can we say? If you are driving by, and want a Mexico to sit on your Waynesworld palette sorbet like Julian in Mexico, then do it. Just don't waste gas. Busses from Tijuana operate on a regular basis from the downtown station, along Madero and the Boulevard. Passing this way will also see you el Florido and beyond where the artist secret was.
Tecate is, for a gringo in Tijuana, also the "road to" Tecate. And Tecate is, also, on the road to Mexicali and Mexico (first you gotta get off this dawmn peninsula, then drag down the continental shore to Guadalajara, there's a mosaic tile map telling how in the old Tijuana bus station downown at 1st and Madero as you walk up from the river & border. Yes.
And that is the connection, my friends, between the capital and the frontier.